A federal judge Monday tossed out two groundbreaking lawsuits by San Francisco and Oakland that sought to hold some of the world’s largest oil companies liable for climate change.
In an exhaustive, 16-page ruling that touched on such scientific matters as the ice age and early observations of carbon dioxide, U.S. District Judge William Alsup acknowledged the problem of a warming planet but said it is just too big for the courts to solve.
The cities are trying to get five oil and gas giants, including Bay Area-based Chevron, to help cover the costs of dealing with sea-level rise, like picking up the tab for seawalls. However, Alsup, noting that Congress and the White House, not the judiciary, are responsible for addressing the fallout from fossil fuels, granted the industry’s request to dismiss the suits.
A federal court judge yesterday threw out lawsuits from two California cities seeking to make oil companies pay for worsening sea-level rise and other climate change impacts.
Judge William Alsup of the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of California granted the request from five oil companies seeking dismissal of the cases brought by San Francisco and Oakland. They were suing Chevron Corp., BP PLC, ConocoPhillips, Exxon Mobil Corp. and Royal Dutch Shell PLC, arguing that the companies make and sell products that when combusted create a public nuisance. The cities also contended that the companies knew the global dangers for decades and hid that information while protecting their assets.
Alsup, a Clinton appointee who in March held a high-profile “tutorial” on climate science, said evaluating blame for warming impacts is a political issue and not one for the courts to decide.
A federal judge on Monday dismissed lawsuits by the cities of San Francisco and Oakland alleging that five of the world’s largest oil companies should pay to protect the cities’ residents from the impacts of climate change.
U.S. District Judge William Alsup granted a motion by the companies— BP PLC, Royal Dutch Shell PLC, Exxon Mobil Corp. , ConocoPhillips and Chevron Corp. —to dismiss the suits, ruling that while global warming was a real threat, it must be fixed “by our political branches.”
“The dangers raised in the complaints are very real,” he wrote. “But those dangers are worldwide. Their causes are worldwide. The benefits of fossil fuels are worldwide. The problem deserves a solution on a more vast scale than can be supplied by a district judge or jury in a public nuisance case.”
A federal judge on Monday threw out a closely watched lawsuit brought by two California cities against fossil fuel companies over the costs of dealing with climate change. The decision is a stinging defeat for the plaintiffs, San Francisco and Oakland, and raises warning flags for other local governments around the United States that have filed similar suits, including New York City.
The judge, William Alsup of Federal District Court in San Francisco, acknowledged the science of global warming and the great risks to the planet, as did the oil and gas companies being sued. But in his ruling, Judge Alsup said the courts were not the proper place to deal with such global issues, and he rejected the legal theory put forth by the cities.
SAN FRANCISCO (AP) — A U.S. judge who held a hearing about climate change that received widespread attention ruled Monday that Congress and the president were best suited to address the contribution of fossil fuels to global warming, throwing out lawsuits that sought to hold big oil companies liable for the Earth’s changing environment.
Noting that the world has also benefited significantly from oil and other fossil fuel, Judge William Alsup said questions about how to balance the “worldwide positives of the energy” against its role in global warming “demand the expertise of our environmental agencies, our diplomats, our Executive, and at least the Senate.”
“The problem deserves a solution on a more vast scale than can be supplied by a district judge or jury in a public nuisance case,” he said.
Alsup’s ruling came in lawsuits brought by San Francisco and neighboring Oakland that accused Chevron, Exxon Mobil, ConocoPhillips, BP and Royal Dutch Shell of long knowing that fossil fuels posed serious risks to the environment, but still promoting them as environmentally responsible.
Boulder County and the city of Boulder have amended their climate change lawsuit against two fossil fuel producers to add another cause for the action, alleging that both ExxonMobil and Suncor Energy engaged in a “civil conspiracy.”
In nearly identical language as it applies to both defendants, the Boulder governments — along with co-plaintiff San Miguel County — charge that the two petroleum companies “and their co-conspirators jointly targeted their fossil fuel activities at the State of Colorado, including through the co-conspirators based in, doing business in and/or incorporated in Colorado.”
The new cause of action, which runs the better part of nine pages, alleges that the defendants “had concerted goals to maintain and/or increase fossil fuel usage at levels they knew were sufficient to alter the climate, and to fail to disclose material information concerning their fossil fuel activities,” including the damage to the climate that use of their products would cause.
The men and women in America who make the products we use every day now contribute more than $2.2 trillion to the U.S. economy. As optimism in the manufacturing sector reaches historic levels, the industry continues to expand and hire more employees. But there’s a growing threat to manufacturers’ success in the United States: misguided litigation.
There has been a resurgence of lawsuits targeting manufacturers brought by plaintiffs attempting to hold them liable under the legal theory of “public nuisance.” It is a dangerous trend that could harm manufacturers of all sectors and sizes. Recently, this litigation has taken the form of public nuisance lawsuits blaming manufacturers for global climate change.
Lawsuits are now pending in California, New York, Colorado, and Washington against energy manufacturers. The plaintiffs claim emissions have damaged or will lead to harm to local municipalities.
Legal experts and manufacturers said climate change lawsuits like the one recently filed by Boulder and San Miguel counties and the City of Boulder against ExxonMobil and Suncor Energy would prove frustrating, costly, and time-consuming.
“Is it [litigation] the most efficient way of going about doing it?” Rep. Cole Wist (R-Centennial), Assistant House Minority Leader asked. “If we have consensus that this is an important policy issue that we should come together on and try to achieve solutions, there are better vehicles for us to do it,” he added.
There is a new phenomenon sweeping America. Attorneys general have become ideological ambulance chasers, racing to court to file politically motivated lawsuits seeking to mandate policies too extreme and unpopular to win the support of Congress, state legislatures, or the public.
From protecting sanctuary cities to demanding greater federal overreach into state affairs, certain AGs have sought to weaponize their offices, transforming from prosecutors and protectors of their state’s laws into a political mishmash of Don Quixote and Machiavelli. This is best highlighted by recent politically motivated climate change lawsuits.
Cities and counties in Colorado and Washington state are the latest to join California and New York City in a misguided crusade against America’s energy manufacturers. Their lawsuits castigate individual companies — some of whom do not even operate in the cities or states suing them — for global climate change, solely to impose financial penalties to justify perceived harm.
The stakes are rising for climate lawsuits filed by several California cities as more voices are weighing in before a crucial hearing scheduled for Thursday. A web of inter-related lawsuits has tried to make major energy companies, including Exxon and Suncor, and manufacturers financially liable for harms caused by climate change. The hearing is an attempt to have the San Francisco and Oakland cases dismissed.
“These cases are simply another example of trial attorneys attempting to enrich themselves at the expense of manufacturers and manufacturing workers,” said Lindsey de la Torre, executive director of the National Association of Manufacturers’ (NAM) Manufacturers’ Accountability Project (MAP), a group supporting the oil companies.
“This complex issue will not be solved through a patchwork of decisions, but rather through meaningful solutions. We agree with the 15 state attorneys general and the Department of Justice who filed amicus briefs in support of the motion to dismiss in the San Francisco and Oakland cases.”